Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan

Edit (May 2): If you are using Google Translate or a similar service in order to read this, please do not trust the translation. If you think that Tokyo Rainbow Pride is the main topic of this article, that is not true. The main topic is English-language LGBT journalism.


Although this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive summary of history of LGBT politics in Japan, which I cannot possibly provide given my limited knowledge, I just couldn’t take anymore the shittiness of the news articles written about LGBT politics in Japan.

The most (stereo)typical, all-too-common article written in English never fails to make the followings clear:

  • Japan lags behind the West. There’s nothing legal about gay partnerships, and people there are afraid to come out.
  • But things are changing. And such changes are welcomed with enthusiasm by all LGBTs in Japan.

And I say, THIS IS BULLSHIT.

I have no idea how authors of such articles could really think that the LGBT politics in Japan might be that simple. Japan is a former colonizer (and has not done much to take accountability, nor does it intend to). There has been a growing influx of immigrants as well as already-existing communities of non-citizens, and former citizens from Korea (whose citizenships were taken away in 1945). Japan has had movements like feminist movements, disability movements, anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements, anti-racist movements etc. Some of them were radical. Some of them confronted each other and created a massive amount of dialogue about social justice and the complexity and intersectionality of different aspects of human life. The LGBT movement has its long history dating back to the 80s AIDS movement the 60s and possibly even earlier, as a friend of mine pointed out in private email – thanks, J! Japan is now excluding Korean school students from its tuition subsidies, and there are protests against that. And with the knowledge and truth that queer people exist everywhere, whether they call themselves ‘queer’ or not, it’s hard to overlook the diversity of queer people in Japan, who take up different social positions and have existed in every segment of society and thus every portion of movements. In short, the LGBT politics in Japan can NOT be simple.

Nonetheless, the authors of the English-language articles about LGBT politics in Japan just so gracefully ignore that simple fact, and just as gracefully and ignorantly believe that the feudal, conservative, lagged-behind culture is starting, only recently, to recognize the issues of LGBT the same way as the U.S., the U.K., etc. did.

The epitome of this is that the 2012 election’s gay winning candidate was celebrated as Japan’s first openly gay politician. That is simply erasure of contemporary lesbian politicians and older generations of gay political activists. This article or this more recent article has no mention of the transgender politician who has been elected multiple times.

The new pride parade, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which only started last year, has been treated as if it were the very first pride parade in Japan. And that is not true at all. Tokyo has had pride for a decade (organized by a group separate from the recent one, which was disbanded a few days after the recent pride was held this year). Sapporo and Osaka have held pride multiple times. Nagoya joined the history of pride last year. Let me tell you——yes, the most recent pride, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, is the very first pride in Japan that is shamelessly commercialist, neoliberalism-friendly, war-friendly, and corporate-friendly. The list of booths who made presence at this year’s pride include Israeli Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, the U.K. Embassy, IBM, an insurance corporation, a wedding agency, Google, the city of Tokyo (its welfare branch), and Phillips Electronics. I saw a tweet during the pride saying the ambassadors’ from those embassies spoke on stage. Who were greeted with this:

No to Occupation, No to Osprey

“No to Occupation, No Osprey” – a tweet by @ r_i_m_y_o_n_g

The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans. Which was used in protest against Israel in this way:

"No to Israel" - a tweet by @uokoba

“No to Israel”, “Against war” – a tweet by @uokoba

In Japanese-language Twittosphere (or Twittersphere, according to Oxford Dictionaries o_O), there were criticisms about the sponsoring of Tokyo Pride Parade (the one that got disbanded this year) by foreign-owned large corporations.

The Pinknews ran an article about the latest parade, strangely with the concluding sentence about the Walt Disney Company policy selling gay weddings and Tokyo Disney following suit. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, all three articles tagged with “Japan” on Pinknews are about the lesbian couple who did the wedding at Tokyo Disney.

All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.

All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.

Each of the articles has the following sentence.

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, their wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

However, in a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the news was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay rights activists. – LINK

But if the authors had done some more research, they would have found out that in Japan, there is a huge number of people opposing the system of marriage, especially in conjunction with the family registry system (koseki), including queer and feminist individuals who show their opposition to marriage publicly. There are academic articles like this.

What I don’t understand is why these Western editors so much like to think of Japan as undoubtedly conservative, of its LGBT politics as undoubtedly so immature that everything that’s aligned with mainstream LGBT agenda would be appreciated and greeted with enthusiasm by local LGBT individuals who, in the authors’ dreams, have long waited to be liberated by the Western mainstream gay efforts. They are, in constructing LGBT politics in Japan as such, erasing local history and ignoring dialogues taking place among queers in Japan.

Look——I don’t even like Japan. It’s a country where I was born, and grew up until 16 years old. Still, that doesn’t matter, I don’t like it. I don’t like what it does to Korean residents, what it doesn’t do for queers, how they treat asylum-seekers, how they prioritize corporate interests over peoples’ interests, etc. etc. This country is full of shit. But there are people here struggling to change that. And the way some of them are trying to change it is way more complicated than waiting for a White savior to conquer and liberate the marginalized populations. And the change is taking place. It has always been taking place. Taiga Ishikawa isn’t the first openly gay politician. This year’s lesbian couple’s wedding was not entirely “greeted with enthusiasm.” The Tokyo Rainbow Pride is only new in terms of commercialism, corporatism, and its indiscriminate teaming up with state violence and wars. Wake up, English-language journalists. For gods sake, do research.

ADD (May 13, 2013 Japan time)

Found a really annoying article about the pride march that took place in Tokyo earlier this year. Had to leave a comment. And here it is.

I’m a queer activist from Japan and here I’m talking to progressives only. I’m not gonna talk with anti-gay conservatives. I’m against gay marriage for a wholly different reason than theirs.

OK, I said it. Now to the main point of this comment – the “gay pride marchers with banners” at Tokyo Rainbow Pride were not “demanding marriage equality in the land of the rising sun.”

Okay, so, this phrase is annoying in many ways. First of all, what the hell is the “land of the rising sun”? What kind of ancient world does the author live in? For gods sake, New Zealand is the first country to see the sun rise in the beginning of the day. The rising sun rhetoric has been used by those in Japan with power in order to make the people proud of themselves so that manipulating them and fashioning them into soldiers and suicide weapons would be easier. So using the rhetoric today carries a lot of colonial connotations.

Second, marriage equality was not even the theme of the event. It was mentioned by some who spoke at the event, and I’m sure there were participants who wanted marriage equality. But the voices we heard at the event were much more diverse. A few years back, at pride, one participant had a sign that said, “F*** the imperial system.” Another participant’s sign said, “God bless no marriage.” Yet another, “Not marriage, we want visas.” There was also an internal protest against one of the floats themed “marriage [mar-riah-j]“, and the protesters had signs that said, “marriage is the gateway to poverty,” “We don’t need recognition through marriage,” “I am lesbian, married or alone,” “F*** the whole family system,” etc.

This year’s event also saw a multitude of voices and opinions, very diverse, very controversial. When the ambassadors’ from embassies of the U.S., Israel, etc. spoke on stage, they were greeted with signs that said, “No to Occupation,” and “No Osprey.” The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans that said, “ISRAEL,” and someone added, “NO TO,” at the top, making it their political statement, NO TO ISRAEL. There was also someone who had a vertical flag that said, “I oppose war.” I wrote about those protests at http://gimmeaqueereye.org/entry/173 (“Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan”) if you’re interested.

I am not only annoyed by the English-language LGBT journalism. I am also furious about the local media who don’t know shit about queer lives and experiences. But I am very aggravated by the English-language journalism because I know for sure that authors, editors, and whoever is responsible for contents must know that there is a diversity of opinions within any queer community. Queer activism in the US (and other English-speaking countries) has seen so much diversity, so many controversies, and battles so ugly. I sometimes wonder if those writers who write about LGBT politics in Japan simplifies it so that their fantasy of one united community of queers is protected. I say, f*** you. Japan isn’t your wonderland. It’s got a long history of rights-based movements, liberation movements, backlashes, and political lobbying. LGBT politics in Japan cannot be that simple. It cannot be as simple as English-speaking journalists want it to be.

ADD – 2:30PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I don’t know what’s going on. I first posted a comment on the Japan Times Today website. I had to edit it many times so the auto-foul words detector would accept it. And then a couple hours later I got an email from Japan Times Today saying they had removed my comment because it was “offensive/vulgar.” So I posted there the link to this blog post where I copy-and-pasted my original comment. And within an hour it was gone, too. So I left another comment (which looks like my first comment, which isn’t true), explaining the above, and said,

“I’m not trying to advertise my blog here, but if you want to hear a voice of a queer activist in Japan that has something to say about the rhetoric “the land of the rising sun,” and about the narrow definition of queer politics as a demand for marriage equality, you can do so by googling “read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan.””

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 14.34.11

ADD – 3:03PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I. Can’t. Believe. This. Japan Today edited my comment, and deleted the parts where I explained what happened to my previous comments. This is against all the values that journalism should embrace. This is not acceptable.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.03.49

ADD – 3:18PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I just left the following comment.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.18.06

ADD – 3:24PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

And they deleted my comment again.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.24.15

ADD – 10:00PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I finally decided that I didn’t want anything to do with Japan Today anymore, and so asked them to delete all my comments, including the half post that I had posted and they chopped up. Below is the last comment I left. A few minutes later, they took down the both two comments (EDIT: with one email notification about the deletion of the second one. Classification: Off Topic).

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 21.57.20

See, I do not care if what they did was in alignment with their “moderation policy.” I mean, first of all, they were not even following their “policy” when they deleted my 2nd and 4th comments and didn’t send me notification emails (I received their email regarding the deletion of my 1st comment). And, second, the policy sucks. It states the moderators can edit readers’ comments, and their decision is final, not negotiable. I mean, deleting someone else’s comment is one thing, but editing it brings in a whole different dimension. It takes parts of a comment out of context, puts them in a wrong (or at least, unintended) context, and betrays the ethics of journalism (which is, by the way, betrayed all too often). The policy also states that readers cannot post any comment discussing comment moderation. And that is fucked up, since there’s no other way a poster can complain about comment moderation when it seems wrong. And I’m not saying they violated their moderation rules. I’m saying their rules and enforcement are wrong.

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